The survivors' tales

Some shelter in the ruins, fearful of attack. Some are trying to rebuild. Some are hundreds of miles from home, relying on the charity of strangers. Some spent their way to safety. Some mourn loved ones, some still long for news. All wonder what to do now. All have extraordinary tales to tell...
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The Independent US

The middle-class survivors

Who: The Porrettos, she a court clerk, he a retired police officer

Home: House in New Orleans suburb of Metrairie

Evacuated? In cars, the day before Katrina struck

Where now: In hamlet of Arnaudville, Lousiana

Losses: Extent still unknown

This family is 125 miles from home. They have not the slightest idea of whether their house will ever be habitable again, or whether their jobs and salaries will survive. Yet, to many victims of Katrina, they have fortune in abundance. Lucky enough to get out the day before the hurricane struck, they headed north in a convoy that rolled up at the Hilton, Lafayette, where they had made an advance booking. Then, via connections in local government and churches, they obtained one of the last properties for rent in Arnaudville. It is half the size of their own house and they must share it with Mrs Porretto's mother-in-law and her sister's family of four. They sneaked back and grabbed the TV and some furnishings from their home which has a wrecked roof and flood damage.

The shelterers

Who: Ron and Linda Libby

Home: Damascus, Maryland

The Libbys used to live alone in a four-bedroomed house. Now they are 13 - the couple, plus 11 Katrina refugees. There's the Colnas (mum, dad, daughter and two grandsons) in the basement; and the Lays (mum, dad, two sons, daughter and niece) in the spare bedrooms. In anticipation of their arrival, the Libbys went out and spent $5,000 on extra beds. Ron is pastor of a church and is happy to help, but his wife concedes that the helter-skelter fun of an overcrowded house may soon need some organisation. "We've all been group parenting," she said. "But we've got to get to some kind of normal life." As for the evacuees, in the words of Jimmy Colna: "You think about your home, and you want to break down and cry. And then you think about the kindness of these people, and you think, 'Wow!'"

Small business owner trying to recover

Who: Grover Chapman, his wife and daughter

Home: Bungalow in North Gulfport

Evacuated? No

Where now: Rebuilding his shop

Losses: House still habitable but shop badly damaged

In 1994, Grover Chapman got sick of the Californian earthquakes shaking his home and moved to Mississippi, where he set up a small fruit shop. When the hurricane struck, Mr Chapman lost much of his stock, washed away by the filthy floodwater or spoiled in the heat. But the 60-year-old has set up a makeshift stand under some spare tarpaulin. He cooks and serves fish, rabbit and beans for free to his homeless neighbours, but mostly he's acting as a vital information centre, doling out advice on where they can get gas, water or other essentials. "They come here and tell me their problems. I'm doing what I can."

The poor black family

Who: The 30-strong Carto family

Home: New Orleans

Evacuated? Family member drove thousands of miles to pick them up from outskirts of the city

Where now: Hotel in Cathedral City, California.

Losses: Everything - jobs, home and savings

The extended Carto family were determined to stick together. This was not easy; there were 30 of them - and some were more transportable than others: 11-year-old Jarvis is disabled, so his 6ft 4in cousin, Kerry Jemison, held his wheelchair above the water, which was sometimes chin deep. As they tried to cross the Interstate, Jarvis and his father were hit by a truck. The wheelchair flipped over and they were badly bruised. Turned away from the Superdome, they spent four days at the Convention Center, the women huddled together, forming a ring around the children, while the men stood guard over the whole group. Eventually the family caught a bus to Oklahoma, where a Californian relative arrived with vans to take them to her home. Fema is paying for their 20 hotel rooms in Palm Springs for the next 90 days, but after that their future is unsure.

Back home - but nervous

Who: Eugene and Debby Roe

Home: House in Gulfport, Mississippi

Evacuated? No - they were away on vacation

Where now: Back in Mississippi

Losses: Garden, peace of mind

The Roes are living with the constant threat of armed attack. When Hurricane Katrina hit, they were thousands of miles north in Canada. Five days later they arrived back to find that their home had survived, apart from a few downed fruit trees and a wrecked patio. Until power was restored, they lived in their RV (motorhome). But, with many homes in the area badly damaged and unoccupied, the threat of looters is a constant menace. Cars - many with out-of-state number plates - cruise slowly up their road. Eugene, gun in pocket, politely asks those who loiter if they are lost. Some are not happy to be approached. A sign has gone up on the corner of the Roes' street: "You loot, we shoot". Their home may be intact but their lives are not.

The orchestra without an audience

Who: The Louisiana Philharmonic

Home: New Orleans

Evacuated? Across the country

Where now: Spread over much of the US

Losses: Instruments, the concert hall

The Louisiana Philharmonic is America's only professional symphony orchestra, owned and operated by the musicians themselves. When the New Orleans Symphony went bankrupt in 1991, the musicians decided to rebuild it. They became ticket salesmen, conductors, and survived on salaries that dipped to $50 a week on some occasions. Even now performers are paid only $18,000 a year, and almost all have secondary jobs. All the musicians managed to get out before Katrina arrived. Some were lucky enough to be able to take their instruments with them. Others were less fortunate. The timpanist owns a set of 100-year-old drums. He stored them in the basement of the orchestra's concert hall, before fleeing the city with his wife and daughter. Photographs of the hall show it completely submerged, and he, like some of his colleagues, holds little hope for recovering his treasured possessions.

The baby who lost his mother

Who: Barren Snell

Home: Central New Orleans

Evacuated? With 120 other infants from hospital

Where now: In Baton Rouge hospital

Even before Katrina, Barren Snell had already fought for his life. Born two months premature, he was still in a New Orleans hospital, being fed through a tube, when the storm came. He was evacuated along with 120 other babies. Many of their parents were left behind. Gradually they were traced, until only one baby remained with parents lost: Barren. His mother, Talissa, was not dead. But she and two other children were marooned in their apartment, for days - until one last cry from her window caught the ear of an alert soldier. She and her children were rescued and taken to the airport. Barren had found his mother.

Interviews by Sian Davies

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